Metamorphoses: A Play

By Mary Zimmerman, Ovid

2,460 ratings - 4.08* vote

Called by Time the "theater event of the year," Mary Zimmerman's Metamorphoses brings Ovid's tales to stunning visual life. Set in and around a large pool of water onstage, Metamorphoses juxtaposes the ancient and the contemporary in both language and image to reflect the variety and persistence of narrative in the face of inevitable change. Nominated for three 2002 Tony A Called by Time the "theater event of the year," Mary Zimmerman's Metamorphoses brings Ovid's tales to

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Book details

Hardcover, 104 pages
March 27th 2002 by Northwestern University Press
Original Title
Metamorphoses: A Play
0810119781 (ISBN13: 9780810119789)
Edition Language

Community Reviews



an interesting take on Ovid's "Metamorphoses" but obviously I want to SEE this play because reading it I didn't feel like I got a good idea on how Zimmerman would portray it on stage, or the tone of the play seeing as some parts were serious and sad and others were quirky and funny.


I've seen this play twice, both beautifully staged/designed/blocked but reading it was lackluster. Maybe I was seduced by the visuals. The most interesting parts of the reading were the descriptions of the staging and directions, that and the Orpheus and Eurydice section (which included both Ovid's and Rilke's versions of the story). Most of the modernized retellings didn't particularly add to or grow off of the original story and the narration had a tendency to fall into simplistic explanations of meaning rather than allowing you to take what you will from it. I never got a sense that it mined anything new except a bland re-hashing of Greek myths. Overall it produces great scene design, but the words were meh.

Douglas Connell

Beautiful, funny, and poignant. A good read.


Great adaptation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.


Zimmerman's play watches better than it reads, though some of her poetry is indeed beautiful. Being a puppetry and movement based director, her scripts largely serve as accompaniments to her productions and reading them one is acutely aware of the lack of dialogue and character interaction, and the overwhelm of exposition. She re-tells Ovid's stories well, if perhaps not terribly interestingly, the one exception being her comparison of the traditional Orpheus myth with Rilke's re-telling of it. Afraid to let the myths stand on their own, though, she often relies on narrators to directly state the hidden meanings of the material, making her less of a playwright, in my opinion, and more like someone writing accompaniment to a planetarium show or documentary.


Metamorphoses is my all-time favorite play. Hands down. This play is beautifully composed and breathes new life into Ovid's work. Mary Zimmerman does not use all of the stories from the original, but does an excellent job of re-imagining several of the tales. As an aside, if you are ever so lucky as to see the play - please do. I was fortunate enough to see it when it was directed by Ms. Zimmerman and it was absolutely amazing. There was not a dry eye in the house. This is an incredibly touching work, and I encourage everyone to read it. I like to think of Mary Zimmerman as the Baz Lurman of theatre. Or possibly Baz Lurman is the Mary Zimmerman of film?

Tara Redd

Having seen and read this play several times, I'm always torn because much of it is in a way too easy, but so much more of it is just not done justice on a piece of paper. I've come down a lot off my Mary Zimmerman obsession, but the ending is truly beautiful on stage:

Walking down the street at night, when you’re all alone, you can still hear, stirring in the intermingled branches of the trees above, the ardent prayer of Baucis and Philemon.
They whisper:
Let me die the moment my love dies.
They whisper:
Let me not outlive my own capacity to love.
They whisper:
Let me die still loving, and so, never die.


Ovid’s Metamorphoses is a masterpiece of imagination and verve, and most certainly breadth. It features dozens of stories and hundreds of characters. Translating this to the stage is certainly a daunting task requiring a very selective choice of the stories and a strong theme to hold them together.

I fail to see either in Zimmerman’s play. Little seems to hold the stories together. And the story of Psyche and Eros is not in Ovid’s poem, nor does it feature a metamorphosis. (Though I guess it is mentioned at the end that Psyche is made a god.) The language mixes some poetry of Ovid (rather plainly translated by David Slavitt) with plain, colloquial speeches.

Although based upon a classic poem, it appears that this play is more spectacle and performance than poetry, using a large pool with much music and dance. Its performances appear to have been very well received.

On the page, though, it is rather tepid. It suffers from the same malady as most translations today: it’s boring. What’s interesting and weird about Ovid’s poetry is carefully dissected until we’re left with a colloquial pulp free of poetry.

Christine Raya

Metamorphoses contains many plays relating to Greek gos such as Zeus and Eros. Each play has different theme and I always learned new techniques from them. For example, in my writing arts class, our teacher taucht us on how the conversation between two chracters seems to be realistic. When my group made a play, it did not sound normal like the play in metamorphoses. I also learned that each play contains 100s of themes. In Eros and Psyche, we listed about 30 themes in a little amount of time and there were still more possible ideas. This book will teach you a good lesson on making good plays. I will recomend this book to actors and students.

Cyndy Maddux

This is an interesting retelling of many Greek mythological tales. I was given the play to read as a suggestion for a possible replacement for the The Odyssey with 9th graders. While I think it would be appropriate for AP seniors, it is NOT appropriate as a text for 9th graders. Many of the tales are not familiar to the casual mythology reader, and the story containing incest is something I KNOW parents of 9th graders would not appreciate.

I would like to see a production of the play performed someday.